Free-To-Own: The New Web3 Gaming Monetization Model

The web3 gaming industry has transitioned from play-to-earn to play-and-earn, which we are strong advocates for through our reviews, with occasional appearances for play-to-own among other terms. However, following the mobile gaming firm Limit Break $200M raise, the CEO Gabriel Leydon sparked a conversation with his new term, free-to-own.

For context, Gabriel Leydon was formerly CEO of Addmired and Machine Zone over the course of his gaming career. The latter specifically is hailed as the hail Mary of all freemium titles, and one of the first to become wildly successful adopting the free-to-play model with in-game microtransactions to support it. 

Game of War and $2.8 Billion in Revenue

The game that delivered upon this success is Game of War – Fire Age, a 2013 freemium mobile massively multiplayer online strategy video game which managed to achieve over $2.8 Billion in revenue worldwide, according to Sensor Tower Store Intelligence estimates back in 2018. This staggering amount was accumulated over the years through the incredible value and player retention pushed by Gabriel Leydon and the team at Machine Zone at the time. 

To prove the previous statement, in 2015, the average mobile player spend was $86.50 per year on in-app purchases. However, Game of War – Fire Age averaged an astonishing $550 average player spend. That’s more than 6 times the norm at the time. Now, some people might view this in modern times as simply pay-to-win, and to some extent it was. Nonetheless, all the learnings are now being transitioned over into the completely new concept of free-to-own coming into the web3 gaming space.

What is Free-to-Own?

Gabriel Leydon pitches the free-to-own concept as an equal starting ground for all players, and their growth from that point onwards completely depends on their time and dedication to the game. Of course, throughout your journey and all what you accomplish, you will be rewarded. These rewards will be in the form of NFTs that you own. These NFTs can potentially be factories or generators of other forms of in-game assets, ranging from cosmetics and companions to weapons and even other characters. Who knows?

The concept lives and dies by its community. The meaning behind that is players who are ROI driven will probably abandon the game soon enough if they don’t feel like they are going to make their initial investment back or measure their time by a $ per minute against other available games. The free-to-own meta feeds off players starting out their journey and having the assets gifted to them from the development team for free, which psychologically removes the potential “de-risking” element from the players’ minds and be more willing to hold these assets long-term to see where it goes.

As proof to their experiment, the Limit Break studio launched a free mint for the DigiDaigaku Genesis collection, which was revealed on August 11. Following the massive raise announcement, and Gabriel Leydon’s involvement of course, the collection went from 0 ETH to holding a 13.5 ETH floor at the time of writing with only 151 listed out of 2022 in total. This is purely a simple example of how Limit Break and the free-to-own concept relies on the community valuing the assets they possess.

What Could Make or Break Free-to-Own?

The reason why free-to-own as a concept has a strong chance of adoption and success within web3 gaming is because play-to-earn and other existing ideologies have enough flaws to eventually disappear by themselves. The play-to-earn model dwindled in popularity because it was completely dependent on token prices holding up to give players a reasonable ROI for their time. It was the catalyst for guilds as well, with their core business model relying on lending out in-game assets for games with the best ROIs to an army of players that can get back the guild’s investment while making money for themselves as well.

On the other hand, free-to-own promotes dedication and pushes players to devote their time to the game if they want to feel the reward. However, a model like this has a lot of points that need to be addressed before it is functional as nothing ever works from the first try. Some of these potentially detrimental points to the free-to-own model’s success include how fun the game actually is to retain players long enough to even care about getting rewarded in any form, how unique each player’s reward will be, if any in-game transactions will be in place that can speed up a player’s journey to the top of the leaderboards, among other elements.

If any game under Limit Break built based on free-to-own doesn’t appeal to enough gamers, then it needs a reconsideration. If all the players are rewarded equally for reaching certain milestones and there is no variety between players at the same in-game level, then what would be the point of trying “to own” anything when everyone else has it. If there are mechanisms in place that favor pay-to-win players that can bypass the effort and accumulate the rarest rewards on their way to the top, then what is the purpose of giving players an equal starting point?

All of these are just a few superficial thoughts that can be threats to the success of free-to-own but at the same time, it is a refreshing approach to see in web3 gaming and especially when it is coming from a visionary like Gabriel Leydon. The concept’s success relies on continuously providing value to its players and asset owners, and Limit Break has already announced a free airdrop to all DigiDaigaku holders that can be staked, burned, or even combined. The choice is yours, giving us a glimpse of the user-focused approach the free-to-own is all about.

What do you think of free-to-own? Do you think we will see a lot of future games adopting the concept? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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